•Pirates make all the money while writers are poor – ANA chairman
By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Ajegunle has for years offered an interesting paradox, a veritable theatre of the absurd, the bizarre, the good, the bad and the ugly. Come to think of it, many stars in entertainment and sports are spewed out of the deep recesses of Ajegunle ghettos. That ennobling aspect of it has, most often acted as the redeeming feature from its criminal ugliness.
Crime walks on four legs, including intellectual property theft, which this reporter witnessed at ‘Boundary’, a notorious sprawling neighborhood that straddles Ajegunle like a colossus.
This reporter was interested in buying Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”, a fiction which created a literary sensation some years back. At a popular book shop in Ojuelegba, this reporter was able to secure a copy at N1000, but tucked inside lots of titles on the ground are hundreds of book titles from fiction to biography, autobiography, history, philosophy and sciences.
“Oga, this one (referring to cheap edition – with some blurry pages – of Da Vinci Code) goes for N300”. But, I told him I did not have up to the amount, I could only offer N250. He accepted and I left with a copy.
A copy of Bertrand Russell’s monumental “History of Philosophy “which I bought at N3,000 some years back, came as low as N500 here, though it was cheaply produced compared to my own hardcover edition.
A copy of ” Essential Economics “, by Tonad Publisher, which this reporter edited in 2002 as senior editor at Tonad Publishers and which officially sells at N1000, came as low as N300 at Boundary.
When confronted about the source of these cheap titles, the book seller became edgy, and uncomfortable, saying “Oga, are you here to buy book or investigate. These books are from publishers.”
Mr. Tony Iwena, the managing director of Tonad Publishers, arguably, the highest selling publishers of secondary school textbooks, told BusinessHallmark, that he has been having a running battle with pirates.
“Pirates have destroyed business for genuine publishers, it is so bad, in spite of efforts to curtail it things have remained the same.”
He said some time in 2017, he had a publishing agreement with EPP Book Services to jointly produce Tonad titles, but unknown to him, Chigozie Aguguo, the managing director of EPP Books Services went to India to produce Tonad titles without Iwena’s knowledge.
This action led Tonad to lose N350 million, and it became so bad that he had to shed his workforce from 120 to 20, the case is in court.
Investigation by this newspaper at various book joints across Lagos showed a sizzling boom in piracy industry, especially of intellectual property.
There have been several raids on pirates’ hideouts based on intelligence through joint operations by Nigeria Copyright Commission, Publishers and booksellers association.
A joint task force in June last year seized suspected pirated books worth N5 million from bookstores and shops in Ajegunle.
The taskforce comprised of representatives of the Lagos State Booksellers Association of Nigeria (LASBAN), Ajegunle chapter, military personnel and the enforcement unit of the Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC).
Mr Valentine Uche, the president of the association, told BusinessHallmark that the raid was to ensure that every bookseller in the domain operated within the framework of the NCC.
“We will no longer tolerate piracy in the community again. Ajegunle is known to be the hub of piracy and we shall kick against it,’’ Uche said. He added that as part of efforts to stop pirates from operating in the area, the NCC had set up a 14-man task force to pursue the course.
The president said that the committee had been supportive of its members in carrying out the anti-piracy raids in the area.
“Piracy-business has reduced to the barest minimum in Ajegunle. The raid carried out was to check the activities of those involved in the business, ensure they desist from such and comply with NCC regulations,’’ he said.
Another member of the association, Mr Amagba Casmir, said that the raid was to protect intellectual property of authors. Casmir, President of Bibles and Christian Books Dealers Association, also said of the exercise: “Also, to guide against mass production of substandard works, inspirational and academic books.’’
He said that the raid was to warn those selling suspected pirated works to guide against such unethical behaviour and the need for them to desist from such act. The chairman of the Joint Task Force, Mr Edwin Uzor, said that it was a punishable offence for sellers to sell pirated works in the area. Uzor said that anybody found wanting would face the wrath of the law.
He said that the task force had been operating effectively within the community adding that sellers had been abiding by the NCC rules. Uzor said that the task force which was inaugurated by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) in 2012, commenced operations in 2013.
“NCC has been effective and at the forefront in the fight against piracy in Ajegunle, “ Uzor said, adding that nobody was arrested during the raids but the task made some seizures.
The Zonal Manager of NCC, Mr. Obi Ezeillo, confirmed the seizure of pirated books to BusinessHallmark, saying it has always been a regular exercise to stem piracy. He said that the anti-piracy raid was done in conjunction with NCC enforcement team and some officers of the Nigerian Army, adding that NCC would continue to lead others in the fight against piracy in Lagos state.
He said that plans were ongoing by the commission to set-up an anti-piracy task force in every local government area of the state.
“The idea is to support the fight against piracy within the state and to ensure that piracy is reduced to the barest minimum,” he Ezeilo said.
In 2017, The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) says it seized pirated materials worth about N926 million between January and August, in Lagos. The seizures were made between January and August 2017 in several locations in Mushin, Ajegunle, Surulere and Amuwo-Odofin.
Recently, the Commission carried out another anti-piracy raid, tagged ‘Operation No Mercy’ at Yaba Book market in Lagos, a piracy activity zone.
“The anti-piracy raid was carried out following intelligence and surveillance report.“ They were accompanied on the raid by officers of the Nigeria Police.
“The action proved to be successful as major literary book titles were seized and three suspects arrested.’’
Ezeilo commended the unwavering support and collaborative efforts by the Nigeria Police and stakeholders in the copyright industry towards the fight against piracy in Lagos.
Only recently, the Federal High Court in Lagos sentenced a bookseller, Anthony Okojie to two years’ imprisonment for selling pirated books. Justice Musa Kurya convicted Okojie of the one count pressed against him by the Nigeria Copyright Commission in Suit No. FHC/L/429c/2013.
The judge, in a copy of the judgment delivered in January 2018, said he convicted Okojie because the NCC proved the allegations against him beyond reasonable doubt, adding that the convict himself admitted selling pirated books.
Only recently, Mr. Yemi Adebiyi, the Chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Lagos State chapter, had called on the Federal Government to strengthen the laws against piracy. Adebiyi said that piracy was damaging and discouraging young writers from taking to writing.
He said that writers were suffering because there were no strict laws protecting their intellectual works. The ANA chairman said that government must address the plights of writers by setting up endowment fund that would make writing attractive to the upcoming writers.
He said that some members of the association were monitoring some bookshops in Ajegunle, Apapa and Mushin areas of Lagos where pirated books were being sold.
“Writing is no more appreciated; even the publishers that can actually publish peoples’ books are doing so; because once the books are not in the curriculum, they cannot sell.
“The book sellers know people that are giving them pirated books, but they are the one that can help us to catch them, but they do not want to help us.
“They are actually people encouraging the publishing companies to supply pirated books to them,“ he said.
Adebiyi, who claimed that one of his books was pirated and 300,000 copies were sold, said that he could only sell 3,000 copies.
“I have my store in the office filled with the books, while the pirates are making money off my intellectual property. When the police arrested those pirating my books, they were released 24 hours after, due to lack of a strong law.
“The law against piracy is not strong enough and even when implemented, the pirate will not lose anything. The Nigeria Copyright Commission can hardly do anything because it is poorly funded,“ he said.
Last week, the Director-General of Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Mr. John Asein, initiated a new programme tagged, Staff Neighbourhood Anti-piracy Surveillance (SNAPS).
Speaking with newsmen last Wednesday, Mr. Asein said that under SNAPS, all staff members would engage in anti-piracy surveillance and copyright awareness activities.
He explained that the initiative was geared towards the actualisation of the Commission’s statutory mandates. He tasked all staff members to be on the watch out for activities of pirates and endeavour to educate people about copyright in their neighbourhoods.
Mr. Asein stated that intelligence gathered during SNAPS on the activities of pirates should be channeled to Heads of Departments and the Director of Enforcement to his Office for prompt actions. The DG said the Commission would soon introduce a surveillance initiative for stakeholders as a pro-active public-private sector collaboration for effective copyright promotion, protection and enforcement strategy.